The creation of the Wellness Room involved input from the administration, Vaden, members of the Taskforce, and various other university stakeholders. So far, $5000 has been allocated to create the room and to pay staff. In some ways, the room has been a success. For example, the room has helped the ASSU bring the critical issue of mental health to the forefront. In the process, the ASSU has engaged the student body and created a truly student-led initiative to confront a student problem.
The room itself, however, is nothing but a token gesture that does little to resolve the actual problem. ASSU Mental Health Chair Angelina Cardona described it as a “relaxing, chill place” with “Jack Johnson-style music, a good aroma, and positive decorations on the walls.” The room features bean bags, collages, fountains, interesting light fixtures, board games, paint sets, musical instruments and cookies. It’s like kindergarten minus the outside swing set. But the very idea that a children’s play space can eliminate serious issues of depression or abuse is absurd.
At the unveiling ceremony of the Wellness Room, executives Dorsey and Harris praised the campus’s progress on mental health. Vice President Harris even commented that the Wellness Room and similar initiatives have the “potential to solve this crisis once and for all.” The suggestion that an end to mental health problems is within sight is both false and naive. The implication that a small room with beanbags could “solve” the crisis signals a focus on political expediency rather than substantive progress.
Prior to the official opening, Senator Stuart Baimel had said “I think there’s a certain tendency to exaggerate any progress on mental health as a big step. The Wellness Room is not a big step and its efficacy in doing anything for students is obviously unproven. In addition, I think there is a risk for people to feel satisfied that they accomplished something—putting this room together—and not work to solve the real problems at Stanford.”
With a multitude of other important mental health programs and institutions on campus, the logic behind the creation of yet another space is questionable. The executives may sell a new room with new staff and a new approach as a success, but really, the Wellness Room is just a redundant addition to a large list of mental and physical health resources. For example, peer counseling is available at the Bridge Center; yoga is offered at the Arrillaga Center; free professional counseling is available at Vaden; music and comfy chairs exist in dorm rooms and meeting places across campus.
By some accounts, the Wellness Center is actually an inferior replication of other entities on campus. Baimel cited Senator Patrick Cordova in arguing “the contrast in training between the Bridge and the Wellness Room is quite compelling.” Cordova contended that strengthening and expanding existing institutions may be more valuable than creating a new program from scratch.
“An economies of scale perspective might suggest that providing the funds originally allocated to the Wellness Room towards further supporting an existing peer organization (i.e. The Bridge, HIV-PACT, Stanford Peace of Mind, or MIRROR) would be more effective,” Cordova said. “The truth remains to be seen.”
In comparison to The Bridge and other organizations, the Wellness Room will provide a far inferior front-line staff. According to the Wellness Room Staff Application, “guides” will receive just three hours of training prior to staffing the room to confront serious mental health issues. As Cordova said, “A friendly face is not always sufficient towards really being of help,”
While Cordova noted that the staff of the room “has interest in providing continuing educational programs,” we can only hope that this will prove to be the case. After all, the effect of under-trained personnel is not net-neutral since poor counseling could hurt the well-being of students in need of support.
As opposed to Vice President Harris’ suggestion, any semblance of “solution” to mental health issues on campus remains distant. Baimel said the problem is “quite drastic,” and Senate Chair Shelley Gao called it “one of the biggest problems at Stanford.” Unfortunately, the administration in the past has failed to fully confront mental health issues. According to Cordova, the university “has not provided wellness programs the financial support that they need, such that students often receive only mediocre care, and are dissuaded from further use.”
While progress must come from the students and the ASSU, small initiatives such as the Wellness Room are not the answer. New pet projects will most likely receive significantly less attention from future administrations and will ultimately not persist as future leaders pursue different signature policies. Sustainable advancement must then come in the form of supporting and expanding existing institutions such as CAPS and the Bridge. Although creating new spaces or services may help pad résumés, the long term solution to mental health issues lies in Stanford’s already proven resources (and not in its newly acquired beanbags).